Day: 5 August 2021

Public Health Scotland Adds 85 Unvaccinated Deaths in a Week as it “Updates” its Reporting

Last week I reported on the latest data from Public Health Scotland (PHS), which showed that 87% of the deaths added in the most recent week (July 9th-15th) were in the vaccinated (one or two doses) and 74% were in the double vaccinated. I estimated from this that the vaccine effectiveness against death was a surprisingly low 46%, though acknowledged that this was a very crude estimate based only on one week’s data.

This week’s update is now out from PHS, and the data is surprising to say the least. Whereas in the week July 9th-15th, 38 deaths were added, only five of which were in the unvaccinated, just one of those aged over 70, in the week July 16th-22nd, 141 deaths were added, 85 of them in the unvaccinated, 78 of those aged over 70. This kind of change from one week to the next is obviously anomalous and presumably reflects some kind of reporting artefact.

Indeed, it turns out that PHS announced an update to their COVID-19 reporting on July 28th, which they said would be reflected in this week’s report and would include a “one off increase in reported deaths”.

This means we can discount the weekly change implied by this week’s report and resume our effort to deduce the vaccine effectiveness against death from next week.

Number of NHS App ‘Pings’ Falls by 43% In a Week but Remains Close to 400,000

The number of people told to self-isolate in one week by the NHS Covid app has finally fallen after previously rising for three weeks in a row, but the total number of ‘pings’ sent out remains high after businesses leaders said recent changes to the app came “too little, too late“. The Guardian has the story.

A total of 395,971 alerts were sent in the week to July 28th telling people in England and Wales they had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for coronavirus – down from 690,129 the week before.

Though reports have suggested that use of the app is decreasing, the large fall in alerts has been matched by a similar decline in the number of recorded cases over the same period.

A total of 189,232 people tested positive for Covid in England at least once in the week to July 28th, down 39% on the previous week, according to the latest test and trace figures.

The number of check-ins to venues using the app also dropped. There were 2.4 million check-ins in the week to July 28th in England and Wales – down 65% on the previous week.

A major incentive for having it downloaded was removed following the easing of coronavirus restrictions in England from July 19th onwards, when it ceased to be compulsory to check into venues, which most people did by scanning a QR code with the app.

The number of app downloads has shrunk dramatically since the rule change, while many others will have deleted it amid reports of a ‘pingdemic’ of workers across the country being forced to isolate after receiving alerts, affecting supply chains and the economy. …

Karan Bilimoria, the Confederation of British Industry President, said the fall in alerts was welcome but said businesses were still struggling with self-isolating employees.

“It’s good to see a steep fall in those having to self-isolate, but this doesn’t mean the problem has gone away. The latest numbers remain too high and illustrate the frustration facing firms as existing staff shortages are exacerbated by unnecessary self-isolation. Amending the app is a welcome recognition of the problem but won’t provide the solution,” Lord Bilimoria said.

Worth reading in full.

Travellers to Mexico Discover it’s been ‘Red Listed’ in Mid-Air

MailOnline has a harrowing story about a woman who discovered Mexico has been placed on the red list in mid-air as she was flying to Mexico City yesterday. The only way for her to avoid quarantining for 10 days on her return – and the £1,750 cost of doing so – would be to catch the next flight home. Unfortunately, the cheapest one before Sunday, when Mexico goes on the red list, is £6,878.

Furious British holidaymakers flying to Mexico have revealed how they found out that the country was being moved onto the red list mid-air.

From 4am on Sunday, people returning to the UK from Mexico will have to stay in isolation in a hotel for 10 days.

However, the Government has been slammed for giving only three days’ notice of the change, with the only direct flight from Mexico City to London before Sunday on sale for a staggering £6,878.

Travel agency CEO Paul Charles tweeted after the announcement: “Pity poor #UK travellers in #Mexico – some 5/6,000 who have to somehow get back before hotel quarantine kicks in on Sunday. Certainly not enough seat capacity.”

And holidaymakers have revealed how they found out about Mexico going red at the very last minute.

Claire, 30, from south London, said: “I had access to the Wifi so I found out in mid air.

“I just wanted to grab the tannoy and tell everyone because I could see all these families looking forward to their holiday and it was obvious they didn’t know.

“It’s crazy the lack of notice. I had no inkling Mexico was about to go on the red list.”

Another tweeted: “Landing in Mexico to find out it’s been added to the red list whilst I was up in the air, has got to be one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced.”

Father-of-two David Hing, 40, arrived in Mexico with his wife and children aged four and seven on July 31. They were supposed to stay until August 21 – five days before the travel list is looked at again.

Mr Hing told MailOnline: “We knew the risks and while at the moment it seems like a bad dream and is very stressful and I’ve been up all night looking at alternative options, we are just going to try to enjoy the holiday.

“It broke my heart when my two little ones said they wanted to stay on holiday and would lend us money if we needed it.

“The notice period doesn’t really give long enough to make changes especially when it’s hard to get through and talk to anyone at the airlines.

“The images of the food and hotels do not seem like they are worth the cost so that’s why we are going to try and fly back somewhere else first. I feel sorry for the people who were already on the flight from the U.K. and hope they can make alternative arrangements.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: No holiday is safe, according to MailOnline. Tens of thousands of people started making arrangements to go to France today, after its removal from the ‘amber-plus’ list, but Grant Shapps has warned it could go back on the red list in just three weeks.

Needing to Be Vaccinated Against Covid to Travel Abroad “A Reality in This New World”, Says Grant Shapps

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has doubled down on his claim that Brits must get vaccinated against Covid “if they want to travel internationally again”. On Thursday, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that needing proof of vaccination to travel abroad “is a reality… in this new world”.

He said that “double vaccination” will be “a feature for evermore”, but seemed to correct himself by following the words “double vaccination” with “full vaccination”. Is this a hint that the ability to travel abroad will, further down the line, be contingent on booster shots too? The Guardian has more.

Grant Shapps predicted people would be required to prove they had been fully vaccinated for some time to come, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is a reality that in this new world, we’re living with coronavirus… I think double vaccination or full vaccination is going to be a feature for evermore, and probably all countries will require full vaccination for you to enter.”

He said in an ideal world ministers would not have to impose quarantine restrictions or demand people pay money for multiple, expensive tests, but said the current system was likely to remain in place after summer.

That was because the threat of vaccine escape – meaning a variant emerging that current vaccines are less effective against – was the big worry on ministers’ minds, Shapps said.

“It would be irresponsible for us not, therefore, to be testing people when they do travel before they leave and when they get back – that’s how you can guard against the next big variant that none of us know about yet,” he said.

“So I think we’ll have to settle down into knowing that this will happen, but as the world opens up and international rules are adopted for travel, which will certainly include full vaccination, I think things will will start to become more routine for people who travel.”

Shapps said quarantine restrictions did not block the importation of variants completely, but said slowing down their arrival was helpful. …

Shapps defended having singled out France as the only Amber List country where travellers still had to quarantine for up to 10 days regardless of whether they had been fully vaccinated, after the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, had suggested it was partly due to the number of cases of the Beta variant in Réunion, a French overseas territory, thousands of miles away from mainland France.

He said there were “very close links” between Réunion and France, meaning high levels of the Beta variant on the island in the Indian Ocean had spilled over into the mainland’s north, but that these had since “descended”.

Worth reading in full.

Covid Vaccine Could Become Mandatory for Troops in U.S. Military

U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to recommend that vaccination against Covid should be mandated for all 1.3 million active-duty military troops, with the final decision lying with President Joe Biden. The shift in position is believed to have occurred because of fears over the Delta variant. The New York Times has the story.

Biden announced last week that all federal employees and on-site contractors must be vaccinated against Covid, or be required to submit to regular testing and other measures. The requirement extended to the 766,372 civilians working for the Defense Department, but not active-duty service members.

That could soon change, administration and military officials said on Tuesday. Austin, who recently returned to the United States from a trip to Asia, has asked the military services to report on how and when they would go about putting a mandate in place. Mr Austin has previously said that he would not be comfortable with a mandate until the vaccines are fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but officials and executives across the board are rethinking their position as the Delta variant surges.

The FDA plans to fully approve the Pfizer Covid vaccine, one of the most widely used vaccinations, by early next month, people familiar with the effort have said. The move will lead to more vaccination mandates across the country, but officials say Mr Austin is not expected to wait for final approval before making his recommendation. …

About 64% of active-duty military members are fully vaccinated, above the 60% of Americans over 18 who are fully vaccinated. But for the military, the rate is unacceptably low, raising issues of readiness should cases rise among service members. It is also difficult to deploy troops who have not been vaccinated to countries with stringent local restrictions.

Beyond readiness, a big part of the push for a mandate for the military centers on the belief that service members could set an example for their families and friends in states where vaccine hesitancy has been higher.

“When people see that these guys got the vaccine and nothing happened to them, that could be decisive,” said Dr Ezekiel J Emanuel, a Bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania who advised Mr Biden during his transition.

“People admire our military,” he said. “They can serve as a positive example.”

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up

Latest Imperial REACT Report Finds Vaccine Effectiveness Could Be As Low as 22% – and Under-64s Are at Greater Risk of Hospitalisation Than Before the Vaccines

The report from round 13 of Imperial College’s REACT-1 Covid infection survey was published yesterday, covering the period from June 24th to July 12th, broadly corresponding to the Delta surge.

The press release led with the claim that “double vaccinated people were three times less likely than unvaccinated people to test positive for the coronavirus” (0.4% vs 1.2%). This is clearly misleading as an indication of vaccine effectiveness, however, as younger people were both less likely to be vaccinated and more likely to test positive. As the report itself admits: “These estimates conflate the effect of vaccination with other correlated variables such as age, which is strongly associated with the likelihood of having been vaccinated and also acts as a proxy for differences in behaviour across the age groups.”

Presumably, the headline was chosen by a politically savvy communications officer who did not want to draw attention to the fact that the study found a lower vaccine effectiveness than other studies such as those of Public Health England.

It found a vaccine effectiveness (vaccine type unspecified) among 18-64 year-olds of 49%. However, the 95% confidence interval ran from 22% to 67%, meaning the authors didn’t have enough positive test results to be very sure of their estimate (despite testing nearly 100,000 people, only 527 results or 0.54% came back positive). They couldn’t even be very confident it wasn’t as low as 22%.